What follows is an excerpt from “Khet” a story that I’ve been working on just for the last year. This is first draft, no editing, so forgive any grammatical mistakes or lack of polish. Enjoy some free reading. I want to finish this story someday T_T This is a YA/New Adult Fantasy with a bit of Romance thrown in. It is based on an alternate earth in prehistoric times–A definite change from my usual work.
Khet (Working Title) – Excerpt, First Chapter
I sat atop a weathered skull half my size, naked toes curled into cool sand beneath me. I didn’t know the name that belonged to the skull – creatures such as this hadn’t been seen in the great valley since before my grandfather’s time. I removed the blackened brush between my teeth, leaning forward to paint a gentle black curve across the back of the lion’s head that decorated the small patch of cavern wall. Sitting back, I put the brush back between my teeth and used gentle fingers, blackened with charcoal to smudge the line, bringing darkened shadow to the image.
“Has he offered for you yet?” Adala’s soft voice echoed clearly from the other side of the small cavern where she worked to spray the outline of her hand onto the cavern wall with a small hollowed stick and a bowl of ground charcoal. “Hadya said she saw Isam bargaining for another Cria the other day. I don’t think your family would turn down five.”
“I’m not sure he’s going to.” I spoke around the brush in my mouth, leaning back from the painting for a better look. The ears weren’t quite right. I leaned in again, taking the brush from my mouth to outline the right ear again.
“Please. He’s been following you around like a pup since you grew breasts.”
“He follows around anything that has breasts. That includes his family’s bitches.” My voice came out in an irritated tone. Adala’s loud and sudden laughter startled me, and my stroke wavered. “Baboon tits.” I cursed under my breath.
“I tailed this line.” I replied, wiping a bit of spit onto my thumb and attempting to scrape off the extra color.
“That’s really disgusting.”
“Speak to me of disgusting when you see him staring at one of the poor things. He practically gets off on watching the pups nurse.”
Adala made an indelicate sound behind me and the corner of my lips quirked up in reply. “I hope-“
A faint roar echoed in the distance, bouncing off the valley walls, and we both grew still in the half-lit cave. The lion’s deep roar sounded a second time, and there was a shuffle of movement over my shoulder as Adala stood. I glanced back at her, leaning down to pick up a few small wooden bowls containing black and red dyes at my feet.
“Leave the brushes. I’ll wash them.” I said, tucking a few brushes into the corner of my mouth.
Adala stopped and frowned at me from across the room, “You aren’t coming?”
“In a minute.” I stood and crossed the cave to her, handing over the bowls, and retrieved her brushes from the crook of her arm. She eyed me in silence as I worked.
“He probably doesn’t even remember.”
I looked at her then, my green eyes resting on her own sienna ones.
“Did I say anything about him?”
“You don’t need to. You get twitchy when he comes into the valley.” She pointed out, turning on her heal to pick up a woven bag from beside the rock she’d been sitting on. She drew it over her head, and its strap fell securely between her naked breasts. She nested the dye bowls in her arms and tucked them into the bag.
“I do not get twitchy.” I tapped the blackened end of a brush against her shoulder, leaving a dark mark, and then turned for the bright opening of the cave.
“At least be honest. He scares you just like he scares the rest of us.” Adala continued, jogging forward to catch up.
I shrugged off her comment, stepping out of the cave and into the small trickle of the valley river as it lead away from the cave’s opening. I stepped delicately from one flat rock to another, ankle deep in the cool stream, following its path away from the cave and towards the larger river.
“I never said I wasn’t scared. Why do you think he’s here?” I asked, wading into the deeper water until it came nearly to my knees.
“I don’t know. He was here in spring. He doesn’t usually visit again so soon.” Adala frowned for a few moments, and then shook her head. “Guess we’ll see when we get there. Don’t take too long, he is not a patient man.” Adala shrugged back and continued on down the river without me, slogging through the shallow waters as she headed towards the village.
Man. A feeling of uneasiness fluttered in my chest. It wasn’t the word I’d have chosen. She was right. I was scared. It had been six summers since the great lion god had given the first names to our people, and I was still afraid. Since that day, I’d done my best to avoid his visits into the valley. I did not answer the call – I fled from it.
I bent above the river, taking the brushes from the corner of my mouth, and worked to scrub the black stains from their ends. The water grew dark around my calves, and I scrubbed until the water ran clear again. When I had finished, I tucked the brushes into a small satchel that sat low on my hips, swung wide across the simple linen loin-cloth I wore. The fabric was stained a dark, ruddy brown, and hid the stains of painting well. I took a few moments longer to wash my hands in the cool water, attempting to pry the black stains from under my fingernails, but it was of little use. My hands were shaking.
I glanced nervously down the river towards the village. I didn’t want to go back, but I had little choice. Surely Leander would have retreated to his mountain-home by now. He never stayed long. Resolved, I trudged down the river, enjoying the cool lap of the water on my skin. It was mid-summer and the searing rays of the sun beat down mercilessly on my golden skin. A gentle breeze lifted long, sun-streaked hair from my shoulders, tumbling it behind me in a silken flag. I took a deep breath. I would not show fear.
The river curved just before it hit the banks of the village. The water here was hip-deep and flowed by in a lazy tumble over smooth river stones and fine bits of sand. I glanced down at the water, trying to shore up my courage, and noticed a black streak of dye across my mouth where I’d been tucking brushes all morning. I grimaced and sunk under the surface of the water, scrubbing at my face for a few moments before coming up for breath. I glanced down at the water again, noting the absence of the dye, and reached up to squeeze the water out of my long hair.
“Khet.” The low, growling voice made me pause – arms tangled in my hair. Baboon tits.
I took a shallow breath, and slowly lowered my arms and turned to face the village bank. Leander stood in the white sands of the grass-lined shore, his naked skin glistening like burnished gold under the sun. As a man, his hair fell around his face in ragged sable locks, but his eyes were the same piercing gold the color of rich honey as they had been as a lion. He would have been beautiful if not for the silent rage clenching his fists and drawing his face into a rigid scowl.
If I’d been standing in shallower water I would have dropped to my knees, but struggling to bow in the deep water seemed more of an insult. I settled for a small bow of my head, averting my gaze towards the village for a moment before straightening to look at him again.
“Come.” He turned, and stalked up the river bank, tight corded muscles shifting in his lean back as he walked away from me. I felt my eyes widen. He wanted me to follow him. I was not willing to disobey a direct order, and sloshed out of the river with quick feet, jogging up the river bank to fall into step behind him. My loin cloth swung heavy and wet against my legs, making a distinct smacking sound as it hit my skin, and the sound made Leander pause in his step. I nearly ran into his rigid form, and stumbled back a step to avoid touching him.
He glanced down at me then, studying the cloth.
I stared at him, but his eyes lingered on the loin cloth for a moment before rising to meet my gaze. Embarrassment brought a deep flush to my skin, and I looked away while I untied the cloth from around my waist, and dropped both it and my satchel into the sand at my feet.
With no acknowledgement of my now naked state, he turned on his heel and continued up the bank of the river and onto the flat dirt of the village proper.
Nudity wasn’t abnormal to my people. I’d seen most of my male relatives naked as children, and all of my female ones, but past a certain age our differing male or female parts were usually covered. Leander was the first and only adult male I knew who never wore a cloth. Ever.
I fell back into pace behind him, and kept my back straight, head up, gaze focused. I would not let my fear or embarrassment show. This was my eighteenth summer, and though I was well past the age women began to wear cloth, I refused to let Leander know that it bothered me.
We entered the village center with its fire pit tucked away under the shade of a large banyan tree. The ground here was cool dirt, packed hard under decades of walking. The people of my tribe bowed in four long lines on one side of the clearing, their backs to the raised thatch huts that were their homes. Across from them four men and four women with hair the color of pale wheat stood rigid and waiting. They were Leander’s attendants. Golden hoops circled their necks and ankles, and saffron cloth fell between their well-muscled legs. They stood feet apart, arms behind their backs, eyes forward and watching.
The attendants had never left Leander’s fortress before. I frowned as I studied their faces. We’d all seen Leander pick and choose among us for the obedient staff of his fortress far up in the rocky hills of the valley, but he’d never brought them back down into the valley. It was unnerving how much they all looked alike. They wore their hair long and braided back along the midline of their body like the mane of a horse. The ends ran loose down their backs like a golden fall of water, reaching just past the long curve of their posteriors.
I glanced past the eight attendants and found Adala bowed low in the dirt beyond them. She lay apart from the others, her forehead nearly to the ground where she knelt. Her body shook in small inaudible sobs. A few pieces of grass stuck out at odd angles from her head, caught in her dark hair. I turned back to Leander, a question on my face, and caught his golden eyes once again focused on my own.
An indescribable hatred filled me. He’d done something to Adala. I did something then that had never been done in Leander’s presence. I glanced at Adala, still bent in the dirt, then back to the great lion god.
“Why?” My voice was breathy with fear and outrage, but it sounded out clear in the still air. A small strangled sound came from Adala, and I glanced over Leander’s shoulder to her. She still knelt, bent close to the ground, but her posture had become rigid and still. I glanced back to Leander. We did not speak to gods. We did not question them. It was the first law I’d ever learned.
He studied me for a moment, a calm curiosity in his golden eyes. A few seconds passed, and then he stepped forward, his hand reaching for my throat. His warm hand slid back against my neck to cup my spine against the palm of his hand, sending my pulse thudding wildly in my throat. He stepped into me then, his face nestling against the hollow behind my ear, and I stood rigid against him.
My hands rose almost of their own volition – whether to push him away or simply touch him, I didn’t know, but I forced myself to put them back at my sides, fingernails digging into my palms. I’d only been this close to him once; the day I’d been given my name. No one touched Leander—it wasn’t done—but he could certainly touch me.
He gave a low growl of warning, a deep rumble at the back of his throat, and then he took a deep breath, taking in my scent. My eyes were focused on Adala over his shoulder. She had cautiously raised her gaze, and now sat bent close to the ground, her eyes following Leander’s movements with a sense of bewilderment.
I didn’t dare move, but I sent her an answering look, one that meant caution. Leander wasn’t acting like himself.
There was a small movement from the attendants, and I glanced at them to find their eyes turned towards Leander and me. There were a few stray looks of shock and fear before they turned back to their rigid stance, eyes forward and unseeing. Their hesitant glances had done nothing to comfort me. I wasn’t the only one to notice his strange behavior.
My face was pressed perilously close to Leander’s collarbone. I could smell the scent of sun-parched grass, sweat, and cat on his skin. His hand was strong and still behind my neck, his skin hot where it pressed against me. I turned my face just a fraction of an inch to glance at the side of his strong jaw, and the movement made Leander’s breath still. I froze, partially turned towards him. A heartbeat, two, and then he let go, stepping back.
I looked up at him then, searching the expression on his face, and found his eyes heavily dilated, the gold of his eyes only a thin sliver around the dark of his pupil. His mouth was half-open and he gave a small huff of breath as he took another step back, and then turned towards the awaiting villagers.
Slowly, I unclenched my hands. My joints ached with the strain, and I felt warm liquid slide down the palms of my hands. I glanced down at them. Small red half-moons cut into my palm where I’d dug my fingernails into my skin. There was nothing I could do about it, so Iturned back to watch Leander, small drops of blood hitting the dirt at my feet.
“Stand.” He commanded as he stood before the tribe, mouth still half-parted, scenting the air. A few members of my tribe looked up, though no higher than Leander’s knees, and slowly began to rise.
“Stand!” he shouted this time, and the entire tribe scrambled to their feet, eyes lowered to the ground. I started at the roar of his voice as it echoed through the valley. I took a step towards Adala, my eyes focused on the lion god. He stood staring at the crowd for a moment, lifting his face as he scented the air. His voice came again on a low growl.
“Family?” he asked. I frowned at the odd command. When no one answered, he turned and strode towards me once more, thrusting out a hand. He grabbed the bicep of my left arm and yanked me towards him, pushing me towards the awaiting crowd. “Family.” He ordered, abruptly sending me stumbling towards my tribe.
I was panting, my breaths coming in short nervous bursts as I stepped into the awaiting lines of villagers. I grasped my brother Harith’s wrist and dragged him towards the lion god. Harith was my elder brother – a full six summers older than I, and a full head and a half taller. He was nearly the same height as the lion god. His skin was the same golden brown as mine, but he sported an array of messy mocha waves atop his head, and deep coal eyes. I was the odd-ball out in my family. My brother’s gaze met mine as I pulled him from the crowd, and I flashed him a nervous look of apology. I brought him to the front of the lines and then went back for another sibling.
By the time I was done, my mother, father, grandparents, three brothers, and four sisters stood lined up before the others of my tribe. My mother held my little brother Hanif in her arms – he was still nursing. My sister Basima, only now walking, clung to her leg with one thumb tucked into her small mouth. Except for me, my family bore a strong family resemblance to one another. We all sported the same golden tone of skin, but the rest of them bore dark hair and eyes. My hair was lighter, more sun-streaked, and my eyes, a pale shade of green. Harith’s young wife stood beside him, her own babe in arms. He was the only one of my siblings yet married, though my elder sisters Safiya and Ruwa were both of age.
I turned back to Leander, standing before my family line. He glanced over his right shoulder towards Adala.
“No.” I said, stepping forward. “Friend, not family.”
Leander’s gaze fell on me again and he nodded once. He glanced to his left side and then back to me. “Come.”
I glanced back at my mother. Her eyes were wide, clutching Hanif tight to her chest, and I turned away from her, striding towards the lion god. I stepped beside him, turning to face my family, and waited.
Leander stalked forwar, slowly pacing down the line of my family. He paused before each one, staring them down though none of them would look him in the eyes. They were more obedient than I. He’d started with young Hanif, inspecting his chubby brown arms and head of thick brown locks. Next was Basima with her clear hazel eyes and long tangled curls. On down the line he went, turning their faces with his large hands and inspecting their lean labor-hardened limbs. He took particular care inspecting my younger brother Mahir who was only thirteen summers, and my sister Sadia who was but five.
He turned towards me, eyeing my older sisters. “These have no children?” he asked.
I glanced towards Safiya and Ruwa. “They are not yet married.” I offered. He turned towards me then, eyeing along the length of my naked body. I felt the flush rush back to my face.
“Safiya is twenty summers, Ruwa, nineteen.”
I glanced at him nervously then, and met his eyes for only a moment.
“Eighteen this season.”
He seemed to consider that.
“Harith is twenty-three summers.” I nodded towards my elder brother and his wife. “His wife is nineteen, their son, a season.” I glanced towards my younger siblings. “Mahir is thirteen summers, Sadia, five – Basima, two – and Hanif is just over 2 seasons.” I continued down the line in a tumble of words. Leander turned back to my elder brother and his wife.
“A mated pair for how long?”
“A summer.” I replied, my gaze falling on the couple. This answer seemed to please Leander and he nodded once, leaning towards the pair to inspect my brother’s son. The small wiggling baby flailed his arms at the lion god’s presence and his face began to pinch into the beginnings of a wail. Leander stepped back at the sight and scowled at the infant.
My brother’s wife clutched the babe close in her arms, which only served to make the child angrier, and he let out a loud, wavering wail. Harith looked frightened – he was male and knew little of small children. I strode forward, past Leander’s shoulder and lifted little Sa’id from his mother’s arms. She clutched at him, but I sent her a warning look and she dropped her arms immediately. I tucked the small naked child against my shoulder and patted his back, bouncing him gently as I paced away from my brother and his wife. She was new to motherhood, but I’d helped raise my younger siblings.
I whispered a soft lullaby of birds and sunshine in his velvet ear, and small hands tangled in my still-damp hair, he stilled against my shoulder. I continued to pat his little brown back though it stung the small cuts in my hand, singing the soft song under my breath, and let my gaze fall back to Leander.
The lion god watched me with a strange expression on his face. He seemed to consider little Sa’id in my arms, and his gaze swept the length of me. When his eyes met mine again there was a look I didn’t quite understand, and it sent my heart racing in my chest.
He turned to his attendants then and huffed an abrupt sound at them. The women stepped from the line up and strode forward with purpose in their step. Two grabbed Mahir’s scrawny wrists, the other two reaching for Sadia. My eyes went wide. He meant to have them. I turned towards my nearest sibling, handing off Sa’id to my grandmother, who cradled the now wailing babe in her arms and crooned softly in his ear. His back was a sticky wet mess of blood and I grimaced at the sight. I turned back to Leander and strode until I came nearly toe to toe with the lion god, my chest rising and falling in heavy breaths.
“Please.” I begged without touching him. There was a note of panic in my voice. “They are only children.”
He grabbed my arm then, in a painful grip, wrenching me out of his way.
“Leander!” I shouted, grabbing at his wrist where it clutched my arm. He paused at that, his fierce gaze falling to where my blood-stained hand grasped his bronze wrist. His eyes narrowed in fury and he let out a loud, halting roar near my face.
I didn’t breath. My hand slipped from his wrist, my fingers shaking. He shook my arm once, causing me to stumble against him, and growled down into my frightened expression.
“I am your god, and you will obey.”
I heard soft sobs behind me. Sadia. I stared up into Leander’s eyes, my own startled face staring back at me in their reflection. I let my gaze drop, letting the tension drop from my body. When my voice finally came out, it was breathy and soft against his chest.
“Yes, my Lord.”